Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Talking Religion

"My country is so full of sh*t," said one of the boys waiting for the bus. "Not so much the people, but I mean the government. Just one stinking pile of sh*t."

"All countries have some wrong," his companion replied in heavily accented English. "My country has many bad things too."

I immediately moved closer, the better to hear their conversation. This sounded interesting. We English teachers are, with very good reason, forbidden from discussing religion and politics with our students, and in any case, the English level of both boys was far higher than my students' -- so much so that it was a real pleasure to overhear their conversation.

The boys were quiet for a few moments, making me worry that they had noticed my interest, so I took a book out of my bag and pretended to read it.

"The government used to be perfect! They used to treat the people with respect, you know? Like adults."

"I know."

"Now, it's religion all the time. The women must cover themselves. The men must behave a certain way--"

"My father says that religion is like alcohol," interrupted his friend, pronouncing it al-co-HOL, like almost all of my students. "A little bit of it is good for you; too much of it is like poison."

I loved this so much it was all I could do not to turn around and congratulate the boy on having such a sensible father. I turned a page instead.

"Religion is sh*t," muttered the first boy.

"Religion can make our lives fresher," parried his companion in his soft voice. "No, not fresher -- richer. It can make us better people--"

His friend snorted. "Religion makes people stupid! It makes politicians even stupider."

Turning around, I frowned and pretended to consult my watch as I surreptitiously studied them. The first boy took me aback: he was the spitting image of David Levi, a boy I went to school with; if he'd only had waist-long hair and been a few inches shorter -- and several decades younger, of course. His companion was dark and swarthy, with liquid brown eyes and black curly hair.

"But it doesn't have to make them stupider," the darker boy insisted. "Only too much religion--"

"Even a little religion can be too much for some people!" the first boy practically shouted. "If you came to my country, you would see!"

"My country too," sighed his companion.

Now I was desperate to turn around and talk with these boys. I wanted to find out what countries they were from. I wanted to ask them about their families, their own religious backgrounds, what they believed in. I wanted to tell them about myself, too -- about all the religious zealots in my family. About the holidays that were ruined by arguments over religion; the family feuds that began when my mother made the difficult decision to leave the fundamentalist church her family had belonged to for ages. But instead I scratched the back of my neck and turned another page of my book.

"Still, people can use religion to help each other," the darker boy started again, and I thought of the charity coffee mornings, the fund-raising events, all the good things so many churches do. I agreed with him.

"Help each other!" muttered David Levi's dead ringer. "They say they help people, but really they help themselves!"

Damn it, I agreed with him too.

"After monsoon," murmured the dark-eyed boy and his voice was so low that I had to strain to hear him over the noise of the traffic. I took a step back and tried to resist cupping my ears.

But just then the bus came.


The Anti-Wife said...

Interesting conversation. It reinforces the need to not judge a country by its government.

Robin said...

Drat! Drat! Double drat! I want to hear the end of the conversation! I'll bet your heart sank when that train came by.

My heart goes out to boy #1 and his family. It must feel so weird to have the government dictating religious practice. I practically go bananas when I even get a whiff of something religious - not festive and culturally fun - being foisted upon my boys. If I wrote the Bible it would have a chapter called "Keep Thy Religion to Thyself".

Kim Ayres said...

Religion is a tool that can be used for good, for evil, for selflessness, for selfishness, for peace and for war.

Blind or unquestioned belief, however, is one of the most dangerous things in the world.

Charlie said...

I, too, would like to hear the end of the story! I have a post up right now about indocrinating the young in America, which readers are steering clear of.

Oh year, I forgot. I don't have any readers.

Jacqui said...

Fascinating. And always good to meet a fellow shameless eavesdropper.

Anonymous said...

Yay, you're back (in blog form)
- Tinamarie

Charles Gramlich said...

I like the Religion like alcohol comment. I think that's true for a lot of human endeavors.

Mary Witzl said...

Anti-wife -- You are so right. I always find myself enraged when people presume to judge me by my country's government, so hearing this conversation cheered me up no end. The government of any given country usually only speaks for a small number of people.

Robin -- Yes, I wanted to hear the end! I couldn't very well trail after the boys and eavesdrop or they really would have gotten suspicious. And I'm also a firm member of the 'Keep thy religion to thyself' congregation.

Kim -- Blind and unquestioning belief gives me the cold shivers. We human beings are nothing without our reason.

Charlie -- You are posting again? You will have at least one reader as soon as we get the internet installed in our new place!

Jacqui -- Let's form a club! I'm crazy about eavesdropping and frequently indulge. I think eavesdropping is pretty much mandatory for writers.

Tinamarie -- I've been trying to post on my blog for the past ten days, but this is the first chance I've had to write when the computers weren't down! I hope to post a lot more when we finally get an internet connection.

Charles -- I liked that religion and alcohol comparison too. The problem is, a lot of people just can't tell when enough is enough...

Eryl Shields said...

Brilliant post, so nice to hear your voice loud and clear.

I'm always suspicious of people who say they don't like to eavesdrop, knowing what other people think is the stuff of life.

AnneB said...

Darn it, all I ever hear when I eavesdrop are conversations about last night's TV, when people have to work, and who has what symptoms. I guess I have to start hanging out in more interesting places.

laura said...

What a post! I agree with Kim, religion can be used as a tool for both good and bad. I learned at a very early age to dislike churches and the people who run them. I wouldn't have known what the word hypocrite meant when I was a child but it was what I witnessed in our little church all the time. And some of the nastiest people I know, won't miss a Sunday service. If there really is a God, I highly doubt that they're fooling him.

Kanani said...

This conversation wouldn't even be had over here...not now with the Evangelicals trying to intervene in every single thought an American might have, and dousing us with goodly amounts name calling.

Sounds great! Two kids really grappling over religion and questioning it.

Katie Alender said...

Fascinating conversation. You're such a good little listener! ;-)

Barbara Martin said...

Eavesdropping is wonderful for writers, never knowing what you will hear. Too bad the bus came.

Kappa no He said...

I bet those two stayed there all day debating. I hope they parted friends. Don't ya wish that bus would have been five minutes late?


Angela said...

GAH! Dang that bus!

Rena said...

ARGH! Stupid bus!

All Rileyed Up said...

I never hear anything remotely that interesting in the conversations I listen in on.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I feel exactly the same way. People who insist they never eavesdrop must be either on another plane altogether or completely without interest in the world around them.

Anne -- I hear plenty of those mundane conversations myself, so this one really stood out. The bus stop I was waiting at is one of the best places for eavesdropping as it happens to be frequented by international students. I miss out on so many wonderful eavesdropping opportunities because I don't speak Turkish.

Laura -- I was fortunate in that my family actually went to a church where the majority of the people were kind and good, but I've had plenty of experience with the kind of people you describe too. I went to a choir practice session once in which one of the members refused to share her hymnal with a new member who had forgotten hers. Never again will I use the expression 'preaching to the choir' in the same way after that.

Kanani -- Yes, in America we have plenty of people who want everyone else to share their own religious beliefs.

I felt a little bad for the kid who was trying to point out the good things that religion can do. He could hardly get a word in edgewise.

Katie -- Aw, I'm blushing. Really, I'm quite shameless. Lucky for me everyone reading this blog thinks eavesdropping is an okay hobby!

Barbara -- For the first time in ages I was wishing the bus would be a little late. If I only had more time, I'd be out there right now overhearing some more conversations.

Kappa -- I hope they parted friends too! But the tone of their conversation was civil and at least they weren't having a heated discussion about the meanings of the finer points of scripture.

Angela -- It was so irritating! Usually that bus is 30 minutes late too.

Rena -- Now I almost wish I could lie and make up the end of the conversation myself...

Riley -- You ought to read some of my students' journals -- a yawn a minute. Believe me, I lucked out on that particular conversation, but there have been other equally entertaining ones. I just wish I had the time to record them all!

Carolie said...

Oh MAN! I want to know the rest of the conversation!

Hey, you're a damn fine writer...pretty please, write the end of the conversation for us?

Anonymous said...

I found you through All Rileyed Up. I'm an Eng teacher living in Morocco. (I also taught in Mauritania) We must chat! I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures.

Mary Witzl said...

Carolie -- Believe me, I wish I could! I've since tried to find these kids at the bus stop, but they seem to have vanished. Now I can't even ask them what it was!

Planetnomad -- I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures too! I did visit your blog and tried to leave a comment, but I'm not sure it took.

Danette Haworth said...

It's so hard to restrain from interjecting yourself into the overheard conversation, isn't it--especially when it stirs you up a little and you want to say YES, yes! I know exactly what you mean!

Mary Witzl said...

Danette -- Yes, it was so hard! I almost had to pinch myself to keep from nodding and saying "Oh, I do agree." I can't imagine it would have gone down too well...